Tornadoes

What to do...

Before a Tornado

A tornado is a rotating funnel-shaped cloud that drops out of a storm cloud to the ground. Whirling winds range from 75 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour.

Tornadoes can measure one mile in width and travel for 50 miles, often changing direction erratically.

Tornadoes are one of nature’s most violent storms. They are common in Texas, especially during the spring.

Before a tornado strikes:
Find out about public warning systems in your area. Most communities at risk from tornadoes use sirens to warn their residents.

Understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

A watch means that the formation of tornadoes is possible. A warning means that one has been sighted or detected by radar; seek shelter now.

Prepare for a tornado:

  • Make an inspection of your home, paying close attention to the walls and roof.

    You may need to make some improvements such as bolting the walls to the foundation or attaching “hurricane clips” between wall studs and roof rafters.

  • If your home does not have a basement or storm cellar, locate the safest room in your house and designate it as your storm shelter.

    An interior room without windows such as a closet, bathroom or the crawl space under a staircase may be the safest place. 

  • Mobile homes – even those with tie-downs – are not safe during tornadoes. If you live in a mobile home, plan to shelter in a nearby sturdy building.

    If one does not exist, find a low spot outside, such as a ditch, and plan to go there during tornado warnings. Lie flat on the ground and cover your head with your hands.

  • Building a safe room is another option. Safe rooms are above-ground shelters built to withstand tornado-force winds and flying debris.

    An existing room, such as an interior bathroom, can be reinforced to function as a safe room while remaining functional as a bathroom. 

During a Tornado

When severe weather is approaching, you may not be able to see funnel clouds, so learn how to look for other weather conditions that may indicate tornadic activity:

  • A dark or green-colored sky
  • Large, dark, low-lying clouds
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train

If you see any of these signs,

  • Locate your emergency kit

  • Go to your shelter immediately and tune in to local radio, television or get information about NOAA Weather Radio

  • Help alert others by reporting tornado sightings to the media

In your car:
If you see a tornado while you are driving, stop your car and get out. Find the lowest spot, such as a ditch, and lie flat on the ground. Cover your head with your hands.

Do not seek shelter beneath overpasses as wind speeds can be higher in narrow passages. Never try to out-drive a tornado.

At school, the office or shopping centers:
In schools and office buildings, go to a designated shelter. If there is not one, the safest place is the basement or an interior hallway on the lowest floor.

In shopping centers, move as far away from glass doors and windows as possible. If you are in a building with a large-span roof, such as a gymnasium or auditorium, seek shelter elsewhere.

After a Tornado

Once a tornado has passed, the danger is not over. In fact, half of all tornado-related injuries occur following the storm. Before you leave your shelter, look outside and assess potential hazards.

Once home, follow these precautions:

  • Use extreme caution when entering damaged homes or structures.

  • Beware of unstable trees and limbs. Falling tree limbs are a major cause of injury and death following tonadoes.

  • Downed power lines are a serious electrocution hazard. Never touch downed power lines or any objects that are in contact with them, including water.

  • Do not enter flooded homes if the electricity may still be on. Report electrical hazards to authorities.

  • If you smell gas in your home, turn the main gas valve off and call the gas company. Open windows and doors. Do not smoke, light candles or use matches.

  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long pants, long sleeves and gloves when cleaning up.

  • Help avoid injuries when using chain saws and power tools by learning how to operate them properly, and always follow recommended safety procedures.

  • Whenever possible, use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns instead of candles.

Take the following precautions to avoid illness:

  • Discard food from your refrigerator if it has reached room temperature. Foods that are still partially frozen or “refrigerator cold” are safe to eat. If in doubt, throw it out.

  • Don’t drink tap water until authorities say it is safe. Instead, drink bottled water or boil water for at least one minute before drinking.

    You also can disinfect water with chlorine or iodine (follow package directions) or with ordinary household bleach -- one-eighth teaspoon (about eight drops) per gallon of water.

    Sterilize water containers and drinking cups with a solution of household bleach.

    For more information, see:
    Water in a Disaster
    Food in a Disaster

  • Poisoning from carbon monoxide is an avoidable hazard during power outages. Never use generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills inside your home, garage or near open windows, doors or vents.

    Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can build up and cause sudden illness and death. If you feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseous, seek immediate medical attention.

    For more information, see Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Weather conditions following tornadoes are usually very hot and humid. You may not have air conditioning for a long period of time.

    Avoid heat-related illnesses by drinking plenty of fluids and taking care to not overexert yourself when cleaning up and repairing damage.

  • When cleaning up debris, look out for broken glass and exposed nails, a leading cause of tetanus.

    If you are punctured by a nail or receive a deep wound, get a tetanus shot.

    For more information, see Tetanus

  • After a tornado, it’s normal to experience emotional distress. Allow yourself and family members time to grieve.

    For more information, see Recovering from the Emotional Aftermath of a Disaster